The organized team activities (OTAs) portion of the NFL Offseason is one where things can get silly sometimes.
It's a point in time where everybody looks good, so and so is better than ever, and there is hope within 32 different buildings across the National Football League.
While OTAs are technically optional, they're really not. Anybody who is a competitor and a point of stability on his team is present for them. Obviously there are rare exceptions, but typically if you're absent from OTAs it means that you're not 100% committed.
These days it seems like Rolando McClain, who has yet to show up to OTAs, has other interests. We learned on Wednesday that McClain has been in Alabama with his children, and perhaps there's more to that story, but he is and has not been with his Dallas Cowboys teammates.
Rolando came into our lives through the just before the magnificent 2014 Dallas Cowboys season. In a season bereft of Sean Lee, he filled in valiantly and proved to be the Middle Linebacker we need (although not necessarily the one we deserve... that's Jaylon Smith). When Sean Lee came back in 2015 he proved that the Weakside Linebacker spot is indeed where he belongs as he was voted to his first ever Pro Bowl (where he picked off Eli Manning by the way).
With McClain temporarily, arguably willingly, out of service that means there is a gaping hole in the middle of the defense (there's a sentence we've said a lot over the years...). The Cowboys are working during OTAs and have someone taking the reps that would otherwise be Rolando's (you know, if he showed up or whatever).
Andrew Gachkar https://t.co/e1Vbp8WiRU
Can Andrew Gachkar Really Be This Team's Starting Middle Linebacker?
That's the million dollar question, isn't it? Technically it's the $3,375,000 question (McClain's 2016 cap hit, per Over The Cap).
Gachkar, aka The Gach, actually started one game last year for America's Team. It was the fiasco at home against the Philadelphia Eagles where, of all people, Sam Bradford threw a game-winning touchdown at the expense of our beloved Dallas Cowboys, JJ Wilcox, and Brandon Carr.
I'm not about to pretend that Andrew Gachkar is the reincarnated version of Ray Lewis. The only thing he's got in common with the Greatest Baltimore Raven Ever is his jersey number. For what it's worth though, the Cowboys could certainly do a lot worse than 'ol Andrew.
The fact that Andrew is the one taking the reps intended for McClain is indicative that he's the clubhouse leader to be the guy in a world without 55 (and Jaylon Smith still healing). Assuming Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens are your other starting linebackers this leaves the newly re-signed Kyle Wilber and last year's Training Camp sensation Damien Wilson as other candidates.
Gachkar had actually never even played the MLB spot prior to the time that the Cowboys spent in Oxnard last summer. He comes from a 3-4 scheme in San Diego, but his versatility is what makes him most valuable. He's been able to adapt to most situations and that, coupled with his size (he's an inch shorter than McClain albeit 25 pounds lighter), is what makes him a strong contender at the MLB spot.
I, and host Bobby Belt, spoke with The Gach last year on Cowboys Cast so I can tell you firsthand that the guy is all about work, work, work (not the Fifth Harmony kind unfortunately). I know that song says that you don't gotta go to work (x6) but Andrew does go to work. That's what makes him awesome.
While Rolando McClain is tending to family business (a common occurrence during his days in the Blue & Silver) Gachkar is getting invaluable time with one of the most underrated coaches in the NFL - Matt Eberflus.
Let's not forget that beyond his inability to actually show up for work, Rolando McClain is sometimes forbidden to show up to work. Last year he was suspended for the first four games of the season thanks to a failed drug test. His on, and off, the field drama certainly doesn't fit Head Coach Jason Garret's "Right Kind Of Guy" mantra that he famously preaches.
Andrew Gachkar does.
Hopefully The Gach can make the most of these OTAs and the offseason opportunities that present themselves to him. The fact that he's willing to at least try is what already has him leaps and bounds ahead of Rolando McClain.
What do you think? Should Gachkar be given a legitimate shot to start at Middle Linebacker if Rolando McClain keeps this up? Let us know! Comment below, Email me at RJ@RJOchoaShow.com, or Tweet to me at @rjochoa!
Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?
It feels like ages ago that the Dallas Cowboys spent the 28th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on Michigan Defensive End Taco Charlton. Perhaps this is a result of the constant distancing fans have made from this unpopular pick, or the corresponding moves the Cowboys have made at DE since drafting Charlton.
These moves include using the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence after seeing him explode for 14.5 sacks, spending a fourth round pick this year on Kansas' Dorance Armstrong, and seeing Randy Gregory reinstated in time for training camp.
Across the entirety of the Cowboys roster, there will be plenty of "odd men out" that miss the cut down to 53 players. Defensive end remains one of the most cluttered spots on the current 90 man roster however.
Prior to establishing the depth the Cowboys now have up front on defense, they did Taco no favors by starting his career at right defensive end. While Gregory may still be a long way from earning the starting role here, similarly styled players like Armstrong have the edge here over Charlton.
This relegates Charlton to the strong side, where he always projected best out of college. By the time the Cowboys realized this a season ago, they also knew a franchise pass rusher was playing his way into the team's long-term plans.
Lawrence's stellar consistency off the edge reduced Charlton's role in the Cowboys rotation of pass rushers. An ideal spot for the rookie to develop with less pressure on him, Charlton's opportunities to continue playing left end may only be reduced this season.
The first-round pick is capable of kicking inside at defensive tackle, a position the Cowboys could certainly use help at. However, asking Charlton to go through another position shift would only halt the progress that took quite a bit of patience from Dallas to see.
It's far from unheard of for the Cowboys to do this with their young players, but for now Charlton remains a defensive end looking to make his impact. The Cowboys are in much better position now than they were at this time a year ago when it comes to setting expectations for him to do so.
Given everything he showed on tape at Michigan as well as in his pre-draft interviews, Charlton is a player that needs to succeed at the task at hand. When this plan is altered, the 6'6" pass rusher is much less effective -- without even considering any athletic struggles that Charlton has compared to other prototypes at defensive end.
As a unit, the Cowboys defensive line has all the pieces to be very effective this season. Taco Charlton is a piece to this puzzle, a backup left end that must find a way to flourish in this role.
For most former 28th overall picks, doing so would be considered a fall from grace. For the Cowboys, it's simply an example of strong roster building that's forced life to come at Charlton quickly. How he responds with a full season under his belt will make or break the hype this deep Cowboys defensive line has garnered, lead of course by the starter at Charlton's position in DeMarcus Lawrence.
Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstated, Will Join Team for Training Camp
The Dallas Cowboys patience with Defensive End Randy Gregory has paid off. Suspended for the better part of 2016 and all of 2017, Gregory has officially been reinstated to join the team for their 2018 training camp. The projected starter at RDE, Gregory will report to Oxnard with the rest of the team on July 25th.
From here, it will be all hard work for Gregory to reconnect with Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli and get his promising career back on track. The last time Gregory suited up for the Cowboys, he managed to sack Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz in a week 17 win. The Cowboys will be expecting much more of this from a player they've supported through multiple violations of the league's heavily criticized substance abuse policy.
Cowboys pass-rusher Randy Gregory's petition for reinstatement was not opposed, according to lawyer Daniel Moskowitz. He's back. "I've never been more proud of any individual in my life. I'm very excited for Randy and his daughter and the rest of the his family.
Among this support staff for Gregory were a number of teammates that wrote formal letters to the NFL as part of his bid for reinstatement. These last few days of preparation before the Cowboys are together again as a team will surely be uplifted by Gregory's presence.
They say no news is typically good news at this point in the offseason, something the Cowboys have come to realize far too often. Today's news shouldn't be confused with a pleasant surprise however, rather something the Cowboys were committed to in getting another premier pass rusher on the field.
Here is the NFL's official press release on their reinstatement of Randy Gregory:
Cowboys & DeMarcus Lawrence Fail to Reach New Contract
DeMarcus Lawrence will definitely be a Cowboy in 2018, but now the future beyond that remains in question. The Dallas Cowboys and their star defensive end did not agree to a long-term contract by today's deadline for franchise-tagged players.
According to NFL rules, teams had until 4:00 pm EST today to reach contract extensions with free agents who'd been assigned the franchise tag earlier this offseason. Players who did not get new deals will have to play the 2018 season on their one-year franchise tenders.
DeMarcus Lawrence and the Cowboys were unable to work out a long-term contract by today's deadline. Lawrence will play the 2018 season under a one-year franchise tag that will pay him $17.1 million
This does not mean Lawrence will be a free agent in 2019. The two parties can still discuss the contract in the months to come, but the deal cannot be made until after the end of the regular season.
Dallas also has the option of giving DeMarcus a second franchise tag next year. However, that would come at a considerably higher price for a second-straight season.
This year, Lawrence will still make plenty with one of the highest cap hits of any DE in the league. He earned the franchise tag last with 14.5 sacks in a breakout season.
Today's news may not really be a big deal in the long run. As long as Tank wants to stay in Dallas after this, the two sides now have over five months to keep talking and will hopefully agree on a new deal for 2019 and beyond.
There is risk on both sides, of course.
Lawrence's leverage could be less if his productions drops or he gets injured. On the other hand, his position could be even stronger with a second-straight year of strong play.
Now everyone, from the team to player to fans, is in wait-and-see mode until the end of the season.
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